Picture a classroom when you were a student at school. Notice how not much has changed in the past two or three decades? Other than the fact we use Google over textbooks and blackboards are now white, the sector has been slow to change.
Schools are reactive places; we wait for a problem to arise before attempting to solve it. Headteachers are so stretched for time and resources that they tend to stick with the status quo. As times change, systems that remain unchallenged inevitably become outdated and no longer fit for purpose. Whatever challenges the pandemic has created (and there have been many), it has brought to attention the importance of digital technology in supporting all young people’s learning in school.
Online parents’ meetings
Coronavirus has forced many people and industries to rethink the way they meet safely, including how teachers meet with parents. The queues of parents awaiting their slots have been replaced by online meetings, giving teachers greater flexibility in scheduling appointments. This also benefits working parents who would have previously been forced to take time off work or rush straight to school for their meeting. A scheduled and limited time slot means that meetings are more focused and purposeful. The stresses of queues outside classrooms, overrunning meetings and impatient parents have been replaced with more relaxed appointments where teachers have the ability to share their screens to enhance their discussions. Although nervous to try this new approach at first, schools have reported happier teachers and happier parents as a result of taking the leap online.
Every teacher can empathise with the weekly ritual of homework preparation – differentiated homework activities are typed, printed, cut out and stuck into books. This preparation time, coupled with the time that it takes to mark the homework, has been the cause of many lost weekends for teachers. The need to minimise books moving between home and school during Covid has allowed platforms such as ‘Seesaw‘ to change the way homework is set, marked and managed. At the click of a link, teachers can set purposeful activities including digital content to engage learners. They can respond in real-time to comments and misconceptions and there is no need for lengthy preparation of resources.
Teacher recruitment is one area in the education sector that has failed to move with the times. Candidates complete an application form and match their cover letter to the person specification. Leaving little room for authenticity and originality in their applications, schools struggle to effectively shortlist candidates and worry they might have glazed over diamonds in the rough.
This process also finds candidates miss the opportunity to truly showcase themselves as a teacher. In essence, they try to fit the criteria rather than demonstrate how, as an individual, they support young people’s learning.
The use of digital portfolios such as ‘Teacherfolio’ has enabled schools to select the content that they would like to see from the candidates, whether this includes a demonstration lesson, examples of pupil work or a clip of the candidate explaining what they can bring to the school. This increased insight has led to far more effective matches between teachers and schools, which in turn impacts upon teacher wellbeing, retention and, ultimately, raises standards within the school.
A catalyst for change
With almost half of England’s headteachers considering leaving the profession after the pandemic, there has never been a more crucial time for schools to address their efficiency. In addition to the online tools mentioned above, schools could develop completely new approaches to teacher-parent communications, school-level policy writing and supporting staff wellbeing.
Liz Foreman, a Deputy Headteacher in the North West, said: “A lot of my time has been taken by policy writing to cover the changing landscape. With many classes isolating, we have to deal with parent queries, comments and suggestions. Finally, in the absence of staffrooms where teachers could congregate, school leaders need to think of new ways to support staff!”
With the crisis forcing schools to rethink some of their established and rigid systems of the past, the classroom has changed more rapidly over the past 12 months than it has in the last decade. Current processes have not only been challenged, but at times become totally redundant. This necessity for change has allowed senior leaders to think innovatively and consider new, and dare we say better, ways of working.